On my first day as a salesperson, I opened the top drawer in my new cubicle space and found a ruler that had “Activity Rules Success” inscribed below the hatch marks. The other contents of the desk were a single paperclip and a dull #2 pencil—disparaging parting gifts left to me from someone who had just been terminated. (I guess that person didn’t measure up to the expectations outlined in the ruler: increased activity.) But the inscription on the ruler, I thought, was the company’s action statement or the consequences for lack thereof.
“Activity Rules Success” is the essential guiding mantra that has forged my way in business for the past three decades. It’s much more than a resonant phrase; this maxim gave me a direction to opportunity: to be successful, I needed to increase my activity.
Activity (or rather, “being productive”) may look different for each job role—a salesperson may need to fill their pipeline vs. a writer completing a project before the deadline. It’s not about specifics tasks; it’s about pace and diligence. Here are 3 tips for increasing activity and maintaining momentum:
Step #1: Do your most important task before you break for lunch.
As Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Priorities with tight deadlines (whether you want to do them or not) should be done first. Don’t distract yourself with file-making or unnecessary meetings—make sure you get done what absolutely needs to get done.
Step #2: DON’T multitask.
Pick one task at a time and complete it. It’s a myth that multitasking speeds our productivity. It actually slows it down. You may feel like your accomplishing a lot when you’re multitasking, but you’re not allowing your brain to organize thoughts. The benefit of eliminating multitasking is that the task at hand will be completed more thoroughly. Trying to complete several tasks at once only makes you complete each task more slowly and usually costs you more time than if you focus on each task individually.
Step #3: Manage your ENERGY – not just your time.
Developing time management skills is a crucial piece of increasing activity, but just as important (and often overlooked) is energy management. It doesn’t matter if you have just one more project and it’s only 2:00 pm—if you’re exhausted, you won’t be able to use the remaining three hours productively. Everyone has a different rhythm—some people are night owls or early risers. Once you know your energy rhythm, honor it! Identify what drains you vs. what sustains you.
Perhaps this means saying “no” the next time you’re presented with a potential time-consuming request. One of my favorite quotes from Seneca puts this in perspective: “No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
When you say “yes” to a coworker, or take a 5-minute break to converse with a friend, you’re actually saying “no” to what really matters. Increase your activity by focusing on what matters, not just what’s in front of you.